Liz Claiborne Art Ortenberg Foundation

A large wildlife colony at the height of the breeding season is a captivating sight, a noisy bustling throng of animals; however the image of a thousand nests lying empty and silent after the occupants have gone for the winter, or a beach once filled with animals, that lies deserted, these are poignant reminders of the utter loneliness of extinction.                                      

Unspoiled beaches packed with elephant seals, rocky shores crowded with penguins, secluded coves with rowdy sea lion colonies and sheltered bays where hundreds of southern right whales fill the air with sounds of their breathing breaching and “lob-tailing”. This is Peninsula Valdes and these are some of the extraordinary gatherings of wild animals on the coast of Patagonia that the Liz Claiborne Art Ortenberg Foundation and the Wildlife Conservation Society have worked to help protect for more than twenty years.

Colonies of birds and mammals hold a special fascination, even more so when different species gather to breed in close proximity. Often huge, these mixed aggregations are among the world’s great wildlife scenes. There is never a dull moment as each animal goes about the urgent business of displaying for a partner, mating, defending a small piece of real estate, carefully attending to a chick or a pup and going in search of food. However wildlife colonies also pose special challenges for conservation.

Magellanic penguins on the coast of Patagonia number just over a million pairs, however they breed in no more than fifty or so colonies, and one of them, Punta Tombo, has almost a quarter of the entire population. A single man-made oil spill at sea, an infectious disease or the introduction of mink, wild boar or some other invasive predator where none existed before, can wipe out an entire colony. In fact the harvesting of wildlife in breeding colonies on the coast of Patagonia in the past, almost exterminated entire species. Securing the protection of marine birds and mammals that gather in number on the coast of Patagonia is a priority for the conservation effort not only for Argentina, for the caring international community as a whole.

written by Graham Harris
image © Graham Harris